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Orwell's Elephant Essay

986 words - 4 pages

George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” was written as an attack on British imperialism and totalitarianism. Orwell recounts an experience of shooting an escaped elephant from his time as a policeman in Burma during the British Raj, utilizing a remorseful, reflective tone. He observes that “When the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (14), and that “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it” (14). Orwell is not only correct in his assertion that totalitarianism is harmful, he further explains how it is detrimental to all those that are umbrellaed under it.
The most prevalent example of tyranny harming both oppressor and oppressed in recent reading is Frederick Douglass’ piece, “Learning to Read and Write.” Douglass explains how his mistress was initially kind and tender-hearted, but being a slave owner transformed her into a monster. Having to exert the kind of cruel power that she did turned her cold and evil. She grew to fit the mask of slavery and became something she originally was not. It is in the same way which Orwell grows to fit the mask of his role as the white man in the Burmese village. He is supposed to show no fear or cowardice, so he shoots the innocent elephant. Orwell’s behavior acts as a mask of his true emotions - he clearly knew he ought not to shoot the elephant, but his role in the village meant he had to. This showcases the irony of how Orwell is the central power in the village, but crowd psychology has forced into doing something he would rather not. Douglass and Orwell, while from very different places and very different ends of the spectrum of totalitarianism, make virtually the same observation: by the end of his reign, a tyrant will be just as broken as the subjects he oppresses.
This overarching commentary on totalitarianism is not just apparent in nonfiction; works of fiction demonstrate this theme as well. In The Matrix, Agent Smith is the most powerful program within the code. One might be apt to assume that Smith enjoys his powerful existence within the computer simulation. However, during the interrogation of Morpheus, Smith sends the other two agents out of the room. He removes his earpiece and sunglasses and begins to rant about how much he despises the matrix and its pungent inhabitants, and expresses his extreme desire to get out. This stands in startling similarity to how Orwell describes the negative view of imperialism held by many British officers: “Feelings like these are the normal byproducts of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off-duty” (2). The “off the clock” (Smith ditches the earpiece and sunglasses) nature with which Smith rants to Morpheus further exemplifies Orwell’s metaphor of the tyrant destroying his own freedom. Smith is the most omnipotent construct within the regular code of the matrix program, and yet he wants nothing more than to get out. His...

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